“Jindal on Religion”

by Henry on August 22, 2007

There’s a lot of excitement in the netroots over a piece written by Bobby Jindal in which he tries to persuade Protestants of the benefits of Catholicism. After reading the piece in question, I’m at a loss to understand what all the fuss is about. It seems to me to be a standard – even banal – exercise in Catholic apologetics. That the Catholic church considers itself to be the one true church, to hold the apostolic succession, to believe that works are important as well as faith etc etc … isn’t news. Nor is it news that a conservative Catholic politician would believe these things It might be mildly politically awkward – but given that Jindal explicitly isn’t arguing that Protestants worship a different God, and is merely asking them “to consider seriously the claims of the Catholic Church,” I don’t think that there’s very much traction in this (there seems to me to be a tacit deal among conservative Christians whereby fundamentalist Protestants are softpedalling the Whore of Babylon stuff in return for Catholics not pushing their line on the magisterium too hard).

But if the netroots are blowing it out of proportion, the ‘Jindal on Religion’ website and accompanying TV ad, put up by Louisiana’s Democratic Party, are actively dishonest. The website says that Jindal argues that

Jindal states non-Catholics are burdened with “utterly depraved minds” and calls individuals who ignore the teachings of the Catholic church intellectually dishonest.

The actual quotes in their proper context are:

the alternative is to trust individual Christians, burdened with, as Calvin termed it, their “utterly depraved” minds, to overcome their tendency to rationalize, their selfish desires, and other effects of original sin.

and

I trust I have provided enough evidence to indicate that the Catholic Church deserves a careful examination by non-Catholics. It is not intellectually honest to ignore an institution with such a long and distinguished history and with such an impressively global reach.

The first rather obviously isn’t a claim that non-Catholics are utterly depraved. It’s a mildly clumsy attempt to hoist Protestants on their own petard, building on earlier discussion of how Reformation Protestants believed people to be depraved, and saying that it’s a bit odd then that Protestants should trust them to interpret religion on their own. The second is a claim that it’s intellectually dishonest to ignore the Catholic Church, and that Protestants should consider converting to it very carefully. This manifestly isn’t a claim that those who don’t follow the Catholic church’s teachings (which is the everyday meaning of “those who ignore the teachings”) are ipso facto intellectually dishonest.

I don’t know very much about Jindal’s politics, and I imagine that there’s a lot that I would disagree with. He may indeed have taken political stances that I would find absolutely reprehensible. That doesn’t change the fact that this is an obviously dishonest attack.

[modified to correct a stupid error following an email from a reader]

{ 2 trackbacks }

A Second Hand Conjecture » Henry Farrell vs Kos on Jindal
08.23.07 at 3:17 am
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08.29.07 at 5:32 am

{ 27 comments }

1

nick s 08.22.07 at 1:59 am

It seems to me to be a standard – even banal – exercise in Catholic apologetics.

Well, the argument from Atrios — with which I have sympathy — is that the fuzzy ‘people of faith’ designation as used in American politics (i.e. mainline, evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants, with an option on Catholics, Jews and the occasional Mormon) actually describes a disparate bunch of people who, if you get them talking theology, are largely convinced that everyone else is going to hell.

That doesn’t change the fact that this is an obviously dishonest attack.

Well, yes. It’s Louisiana, which is not averse to dirty politics and sectarianism, and he’s an odds-on favourite to enter the governor’s mansion, so it’s the bottom of the barrel.

I’m not as convinced as others that it will lead to doctrinal questioning of the presidential candidates, but you never know. Writing apologetics makes you a bigger target than invoking Generic Jesus on the stump, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there are bios/autobios for candidates which detail the ‘journey to faith’. It’d be fun to ask Tancredo why he converted from Catholicism to Presbyterian, then ask Brownback why he went over to Rome, with Southern Baptist minister Huckabee looking on.

2

anmk 08.22.07 at 2:21 am

Jindal isn’t the governor yet. Just saying.

3

Pritesh 08.22.07 at 2:44 am

It was Jindal that had the idea for members of congress to show up with purple ink on their finger during the state of the union speech in 2005. This was to show solidarity with the Iraqi people after the elections in Iraq.

4

Donald Johnson 08.22.07 at 3:02 am

Henry is right. I’m a lefty Protestant, with no sympathy for the religious right (Protestant or Catholic), but Jindal’s theological opinions about which church is the true church aren’t offensive to me and they should have nothing to do with the campaign. He’s giving the usual Catholic arguments for why their church is the true Church and any Protestant who is even mildly interested in the subject would have encountered this sort of thing. From the Catholic standpoint and from all but the most hardline Protestant fundamentalists, it’s also not an argument about who is going to hell. The Catholic Church long ago granted that non-Catholics and even non-Christians can go to heaven. (I’m sure you’re all relieved.)

The Democrats are in the gutter on this one, unless there’s more to the story than I’ve read so far.

5

Donald Johnson 08.22.07 at 3:06 am

BTW, if Jindal takes public policy positions that stem from his Catholic faith, obviously that’s fair game. I assume he does.

I’m also sure I’d probably think he’s an idiot. He’s running as a Republican,which stacks the odds pretty heavily on that question.

6

sd 08.22.07 at 3:42 am

Regardless of your opinion as to the moral worth of the national Democratic party (at least as compared to the Republican party), it ought to be clear to any decent person that the Louisiana Democratic party has been engaging in vile tactics toward Jindal for some time now.

The insistance of many Louisiana Democrats on calling Jindal by his birth name (Piyush) rather than the name he and his family and friends call him is structurally equivalent to the sleaziest rightwingers insistance on inserting Barak Obama’s middle name (“Hussein”) into any discussion of him, and of course, both are trashy to the extreme.

7

ejh 08.22.07 at 6:52 am

When he refers to the Church’s “distinguished history”, by what does he consider it distinguished?

8

derek 08.22.07 at 7:18 am

Well, it sounds pretty clumsy to me. Aren’t the people who came up with the doctrine of depravity the same people who, on thinking about it that way, quit the Catholic church? That’s what “Protestant” meant the last time I looked. It seems a bit ham-handed of Jindal to try to describe it as the philosophy of people to whom it had never occurred to join the Catholic church.

9

bad Jim 08.22.07 at 7:19 am

It is not intellectually honest to ignore an institution with such a long and distinguished history and with such an impressively global reach.

So I’m reconsidering communism.

kthxl8r

10

Mrs Tilton 08.22.07 at 8:22 am

It certainly does sound as though Louisiana Democrats are taking unwarranted liberties in their attack ad. (And the xenophobic tactic sd describes @6 is disgusting; that’s one leaf from the Republican playbook Democrats would be better advised not to take.) And yes, as Henry notes, what Jindal wrote is pretty much bog-standard RC apologia. It’s exactly the sort of thing Americans used to hear from Fulton Sheen and, more recently, hear from people like Richard Neuhaus and John McCloskey.

And that is why the Democrats are right to attack Jindal for his piece (though their unfair tactics are not justified). Jindal is not running for the post of TV catholic archbishop. He’s running for governor of a multifaith state that is bound by the establishment clause of the US constitution.

There’s no religious test for state office in the USA, and that’s the way it should be. Protestants, catholics, Jews, atheists, buddhists and whatever you’re having yourself are all eligible to serve, and voters should consider their merits without regard to whether they are protestant, catholic etc. But voters should reject any protestant, catholic etc. who shows himself, as Jindal has done, a sectarian. Jindal is free to believe whatever he likes, of course, including (if that is what he believes) that those of us who decline to kiss his pope’s ring will all roast in hell. But a candidate for public office in a pluralist and ostensibly secular democracy who publicly advocates the position Jindal advocates thereby demonstrates her unfitness for public office. At the very least, even if I happened to agree with Jindal theologically, I’d have very serious questions about his judgement.

11

Stuart 08.22.07 at 8:40 am

Aren’t the people who came up with the doctrine of depravity the same people who, on thinking about it that way, quit the Catholic church? That’s what “Protestant” meant the last time I looked.

I imagine those protestants that left the Catholic church might not be his target audience, what with them being dead for hundreds of years and so on.

12

Jacob T. Levy 08.22.07 at 11:31 am

mrs tilton, did you notice that the piece is 12 years old? This isn’t a piece of campaign literature; it’s a defense-of-his-faith written for a religious publication more than a decade ago.

Not that I see what would be wrong with it even so.

But voters should reject any protestant, catholic etc. who shows himself, as Jindal has done, a sectarian. Jindal is free to believe whatever he likes, of course, including (if that is what he believes) that those of us who decline to kiss his pope’s ring will all roast in hell. But a candidate for public office in a pluralist and ostensibly secular democracy who publicly advocates the position Jindal advocates thereby demonstrates her unfitness for public office.

“Sectarian” here is one of those irregular nouns. One who believes that one’s religion is true, believes it to be true. Does every Christian who publicly affirms that Jesus was the Christ (and thereby holds that all non-Christian religions are false or in error– it necessarily follows) qualify as a sectarian who’s ineligible for public office? The difference between Jindal’s piece and the standard American Protestant candidate’s affirmation is that he offered his reasons for believing as he does, whereas they typically reaffirm their faith as if it were self-justifying*; and he wrote his down.

To be blunt: as an American Jew I’m much too used to the way American Protestant candidates talk to have the slightest sympathy for American Protestant voters who are suddenly shocked that someone *else* might tell them *their* religion was in error. He’s no more sectarian than they.

Now, I’m a little surprised he wrote it, since Jindal has had his eye on Louisiana politics since before he graduated college, and it wold come as no surprise to him that there are a lot of Protestants in Louisiana. But perhaps he thought that an apology was more important than avoiding being impolitic.

[*Not that there’s not something circular in Jindal’s arguments too; but it’s one step more complicated than “I believe what I believe because I believe it to be true.”]

13

Mrs Tilton 08.22.07 at 1:00 pm

Jacob,

I’d have been astonished to learn this was a piece of campaign literature. Unless perhaps Jindal were aiming for the nomination of the Ultramontane Tridentine Guelph Party, he’d be daft to make this sort of thing part of his campaign.

And I quite agree with you that American RC candidates have no monopoly on sectarianism — indeed when it comes to sectarianism, I’m sure they fall far short of protestants in market share. My dislike of sectarianism is non-denominational.

But Jindal’s piece is sectarian for all that. I would have no complaint about it, if it came from a pope or a priest; for such men it is simply part of the job. I do have a complaint about it coming from a man who hopes to represent the people of a non-confessional polity.

Note that I do not question or begrudge Jindal’s right to believe whatever he likes. But those who believe that sort of thing and, like Jindal, hope for public office in anything other than a Roman Catholic theocracy ought to keep such beliefs part of their private lives. (And, once again, for “RC” substitute any other religion you like, mutatis mutandis.)

To answer your question, no, I don’t think that every person of faith who believes his own religion true and all others (partially or totally) false is unfit for public office. But those who choose to engage in public, sectarian polemic are unfit for office in a pluralist, secular democracy.

14

Bryan McGraw 08.22.07 at 1:24 pm

So mrs. tilton’s position is that folks can believe as they like and be fit for public office just so as they don’t tell anyone about it. It’s really quite the odd claim, when you think about it. He didn’t write it as a part of his campaign literature. He didn’t write it *as* a public official. He didn’t even write anything there about its connections to politics. He wrote it for a religious magazine as part of the very normal intellectual and moral discussion that goes on every day in a “pluralist” (but not particular secular) democracy. If we took mrs. tilton’s position to be the right one, religious believers (and all other sorts of people who hold particularist views) who sought public office would as a matter of course be required to not just keep their views out of politics but to keep them out of any discussions that someone could plausibly conceive as non-private. Doesn’t seem very reasonable to me.

15

Jacob T. Levy 08.22.07 at 1:25 pm

So it’s “those who believe their religion is true and have ever, in their whole lives, been impolite enough to say so in public with an aim toward persuading someone else.” Seems both extraordinary and unjustifiable to me.

Inter alia, it excludes from office anyone who has ever actually been a man-of-the-cloth-or-equivalent. (As you say: this would have been part of the job description for a priest.) As far as I know that’s farther than even France ever went; it’s certainly not standard practice in secular pluralist democracies. We ask that office-holders take a certain stance toward their religious commitments when they’re behaving as office-holders, not that they spend their whole lives treating those commitments like a dirty little secret to be kept safely in their home with the curtains drawn.

16

Mrs Tilton 08.22.07 at 2:06 pm

Jacob,

in fact I am not all that far away from the position you describe as extraordinary and unjustifiable. I am intensely committed to secularism in the public sphere. I don’t think religious partisans should serve a secular state; and I don’t think voters who vote for (or against) Candidate X because she belongs to Religion (or Lack-of-religion) Y are good citizens of such polities. You can disagree with that, and fair play to you.

But there’s one thing you are misreading a bit: “Inter alia, it excludes from office…”. No, it doesn’t. I wouldn’t dream of excluding Bobby Jindal or, for that matter, Ian Paisley (a much nastier customer altogether) from public office because of their public stance on religious questions. Indeed, I’d oppose (as I hope we all would) any attempt to exclude them from eligibility on religious grounds. But that is not at all inconsistent with wishing them to fail in their efforts to be elected.

My very strong preference is that one’s religion, if any, be a strictly private matter (perhaps a very important matter, but a private one for all that); and for nobody is this more important than for a politician in a non-confessional state. Of course a politician may think otherwise, and campaign for office with the Authorised Version (or the Koran, or the Bhagavad Gita, etc.) in his hand and the name of his Lord and Saviour (or the Almighty and Merciful, or the Lord Krishna etc.) forever on his lips. And that politician needs to be free to think otherwise. But by the same token, those of us who want a secular state are free to argue he shouldn’t be elected. And that’s why I think the Lousiana Democrats justified, in principle, in attacking Jindal; though I agree with Henry (and, I presume, you) that their chosen method was reprehensible.

BTW, on a pedantic point, I believe that RC priests are “excluded from office” in America — but by the rules of their own church, not by any secular law.

17

Jeff R. 08.22.07 at 2:43 pm


BTW, on a pedantic point, I believe that RC priests are “excluded from office” in America—but by the rules of their own church, not by any secular law.

I believe they are excluded from office everywhere. Robert Drinan gave up his seat in Congress when the Pope ordered priests to withdraw from elective politics. Jean-Bertrand Aristide eventually left the priesthood to get married, but I think Rome had been pushing him to resign or leave the priesthood once he was elected president. Drinan was a Democrat and Aristide was an advocate of liberation theology.

I read that aritcle, too, and seemed pretty close to the Vatican II decree on ecumenism. It’s nothing the church hasn’t been saying, but perhaps not quite phrased that way.

18

John 08.22.07 at 3:06 pm

Thank you for that clarification. Not having read the original but only the (inaccurate)quote, it certainly did seem to suggest that non-Catholic Christians had “utterly depraved” minds. But Jindal certainly did not express it well, leaving himself wide open for the attack, deserved or not. So, this should be an object lesson for all politicians who want to bring their religious beliefs into the public political arena. Democrats have been the victims time and again from unscrupulous or misinformed Republican attacks for trying the same kind of politico-religious acrobatics. I don’t shed a single tear for Jindal. He is merely reaping what his party so assiduously sowed these many years.

19

Other Ezra 08.22.07 at 4:34 pm

Since the LDP is so eager to mine Jindal’s college writing for religious items to exploit, I wonder why it’s downplaying the infamous excorcism piece — the 2nd item on the web site, described strangely as a “battle with illness.”

20

nick s 08.22.07 at 8:16 pm

For the sake of comparison, let’s remember the absurd (and gratingly-named, for any Catholic) ‘Kerry Wafer Watch’ three years ago. Let’s chuck in the apparent free pass that Rudy Giuliani has received for saying that questions of his own Catholicism are between him and his priest.

We ask that office-holders take a certain stance toward their religious commitments when they’re behaving as office-holders, not that they spend their whole lives treating those commitments like a dirty little secret to be kept safely in their home with the curtains drawn.

Absolutely. But that raises the question of whether the office-holder stance should embrace the fuzzy ‘people of faith’ formulation that discriminates between a set of tacitly-approved ‘faith’ denominations and everyone else.

Maintaining the faith/non-faith distinction in the political realm, then objecting to the scrutiny of one’s doctrinal beliefs seems like wanting it both ways.

To quote Atrios again:

We disagree about things. We don’t all share a belief in God, or the supernatural, or the spiritual plane, or whatever. Those who believe in these things don’t agree on the details. There are a tremendous variety of belief systems in this country and across the world. The tendency to divide people into “faith” and “non-faith” has, as I wrote, obscured these differences, but the fact is that disagreement within “communities of faith” is no different than disagreement between religious and non-religious people.

other ezra @19: the obvious reason is that the LDP doesn’t want to piss off its own Catholic supporters, hence the decision to target these ads in the north of the state. Welcome to the dirty world of Louisiana politics.

21

Sean 08.22.07 at 8:18 pm

Just a side point — I don’t think the fact is so much that Jindal wrote this piece as the LDP is pretty grossly distorting the piece (the take on the “utterly depraved” thing is pretty egregious) and then running it in the Protestant parts of the state. They’re blatantly — and dishonestly — trying to inflame religious sentiment. Obviously the Republicans do their fair share of this, but that really doesn’t excuse this.

22

eugene murphy 08.22.07 at 11:01 pm

re:#4

i do believe it to be the case that the Roman Catholic Church has expressed that non-Christians
cannot be saved.

certainly this was the holding when i studied theology at a catholic university in the 50’s and i believe the holding has recently been re- affirmed.

perhaps it was paul who wrote to the effect that deliverance was solely through Christ.

23

Geoff Robinson 08.22.07 at 11:01 pm

Isn’t the Democratic candidate a very recent Republican? As the Democrats have no prospect in the state election but a possibility of winning the state at the presidential level (where catholic voters would be crucial) it seems an ill-advised strategy.

24

Mrs Tilton 08.23.07 at 9:17 am

Eugene @22,

the Roman Catholic Church has expressed that non-Christians cannot be saved

Depends on what documents you’re looking at. The bull Unam sanctam of Boniface VIII proclaimed (so far as I can judge these things, solemnly and ex cathedra; and hence, under RC teachings, infallibly) that non-Catholics, let alone non-Christians, cannot be saved. And for centuries, that was pretty much that. But that began to change in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; and the decrees of the second Vatican Council and certain papal statements made since then were more eirenic altogether. I think the current Roman party line is (and, though it sounds flippant when compressed like this, it really isn’t) that non-RC Christians and non-Christians can be saved; but the saved non-RCs were catholics without knowing it and the saved non-Christians accepted Christ without knowing it. IOW, there’s still only One True Church, and everybody saved is still saved by Jesus through that Church; but formal submission and membership is no longer the be-all and end-all. (Actually, the Anglican writer CS Lewis anticipated this way of thinking in the figure of the “good Calormene” at the end of the last and least pleasant of his Narnia books; though the direct influence of Lewis’s children’s books on the fathers and periti of the 2nd Vatican Council is SFAIK a topic that still awaits research by historians and sociologists of religion.)

I am not subtle enough to see how the RCC holds Unam sanctam and Vatican II in its head at the same time. If I were a deep thinker like John Henry Newman, I imagine I’d be able to see this as the development of doctrine rather than a contradiction. What I do know is that (and ignoring the inconsistencies in its doctrines), the RC church has to a significant extent softened its centuries-old exclusivism. And when the occasional clerical hardliner these days tries to teach that formal membership in the RCC is the sine qua non of salvation, the RCC excommunicates his ass.

it was paul who wrote to the effect that deliverance was solely through Christ

Well, that was certainly his position. But Paul wasn’t influential for the RC church only — his writings were just as key (and arguably even more so) for the Lutheran and Reformed traditions.

25

Jeff R. 08.23.07 at 4:53 pm


the Roman Catholic Church has expressed that non-Christians cannot be saved

Mrs. Tilton pretty much said it all, but I just have a few clarifications and additions. She says:

I am not subtle enough to see how the RCC holds
Unam sanctam and Vatican II in its head at the same time.

First, Unam Sanctam came out in 1302 and the doctrine of infallibility wasn’t promulgated until Vatican I in the 1870s. Some theologians, Hans Kung for example, assert that church councils have greater authority than papal statements, even infallible ones. In the first millennium of the church, there were many councils that defined and changed various doctrines. The idea that the church doctrine has always been constant and unchanging is bunk.

but the saved non-RCs were catholics without knowing it

Yes and even further than that, Unitatis Redintegratia, the Vatican II decree on ecumenism, claims all baptized Christians as members of the Catholic church.

and the saved non-Christians accepted Christ without knowing it.

Yes, and as James Carroll says in Constantine’s Sword, the implication is that heaven would be judenrein.

26

engels 08.24.07 at 4:50 pm

The Catholic Church long ago granted that non-Catholics and even non-Christians can go to heaven.

Thanks guys!

27

La. Republican 08.27.07 at 1:58 pm

You looney leftists have no idea about the politics in the Bayou State. The LDP now is viewed as the leftist version of David Duke. The race and religion cards played by those boobs will ensure a landslide victory by Jindal over the Dems (recently “converted” Republicans) who are running against him. Governor Blank-Stare was the first victim, Mary will be next.

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